Teachers and school leaders have voiced “genuine confusion” over the move to force students who fail to get at least a C in English and maths to continue studying the subjects post-16.
The requirement came into effect this month and states that students “must continue to study the subjects in post-16 education until they get these qualifications”.
It is based on a proposal made by Professor Alison Wolf in her 2011 review of vocational education.
However, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) warned that delivering the extra classes required, in the current economic climate with reduced post-16 funding, would be difficult.
General secretary Brian Lightman said: “There is still genuine confusion about the announcement and what the new policy means.
“The aim is right, but there are many questions the government needs to address urgently about how it will fund and implement its plan. Once it does this, schools, colleges and training providers will be able to give their full support to this important initiative.
“In the current climate, when post-16 funding is being significantly reduced, it is difficult to see how they will be able to provide additional classes or recruit suitably qualified teachers.”
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, echoed the concerns. She added: “The government has created widespread confusion. It is not at all clear whether students who fail to get a good pass in GCSE English and maths will, under these proposals, be required to sit endless retakes of an exam which is about to be reformed to make it harder to pass.”
Mr Lightman also pointed out that many young people will not be in 6th forms, but on Apprenticeships or work-based training. He added: “For many local authorities, we cannot see how they will have the resources to carry out this role.”
In her March 2011 report, Prof Wolf’s recommendation stated that post-16 students without the C grades “should be required, as part of their programme, to pursue a course which either leads directly to these qualifications, or which provides significant progress towards future GCSE entry and success”.
She added: “The latter should be based around other maths and English qualifications which have demonstrated substantial content and coverage; and Key Skills should not be considered a suitable qualification in this context.”
She advised that the government should “consider how best to introduce a comparable requirement into Apprenticeship frameworks”.
Of young people aged 19 in 2012, 285,000 had left secondary school at age 16 without a C or better in both GCSE English and maths, but only 30,000 had gone on to achieve this benchmark.